Heathrow: using procurement to eliminate carbon in the whole asset lifecycle

This year, World Green Building Week is raising awareness of carbon emissions and embodied carbon in the built environment from design and construction through to use and reuse. We caught up with Paul Doherty, Head of On Air Capital Procurement at Heathrow to understand how they are embedding sustainability across all stages of the airport’s infrastructure lifecycle.

Paul Doherty, Head of On Air Capital Procurement at Heathrow

Heathrow launched its ambitious 2.0 sustainability strategy in 2017. What does this mean in practice?

We are proud to have such a strong sustainability strategy in Heathrow 2.0. Our ambition is to make Heathrow a centre of excellence for sustainable aviation and accelerate our transition to a low carbon economy. By clearly setting our objectives as an airport, we are galvanising the airport community, academics and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to work together to tackle some real issues facing our industry.

With more than 400 businesses operating from or supplying goods and services to Heathrow, our influence stretches far beyond our boundary. We want to use that influence to drive every member of Team Heathrow and every link in our supply chain towards strategies that deliver ethical, low carbon and sustainable outcomes.

We are a people centric business, so for me, Heathrow 2.0 gives everyone license to ask whether we are growing in the most sustainable way. It gives our colleagues ownership of ensuring we find green solutions as a team.

Part of Heathrow 2.0 is having zero carbon airport infrastructure by 2050. What role does the On Air Capital Procurement plan play in this vision and how are you re-shaping the approach to ensure it can meet the strategy’s ambitions?

We know we cannot achieve our ambitions alone. The focus that 2.0 brings to capital infrastructure ensures that we start any new project by developing specific sustainability credentials linked directly to the overarching mission. Sustainability, in the broadest sense, is now at the heart of any decision we make and any relationship we build. It is now even being built into some of the contracts we agree.

An example of building sustainability into decisions is the new baggage system and basement currently being built in Terminal 2.

This represents a large investment in the airport’s growth so our sustainability ambitions for the project are high. At the start of the programme, we ran a workshop with the wider team to develop the sustainability plan. The workshop resulted in us making a number of key decisions from choosing materials based on the percentage of embodied carbon to regulating how much vehicles are used, how far they ship materials and how much they carry at one time.

How is Heathrow working with its supply chain to reduce carbon emissions from its airport infrastructure in this way?

Heathrow has a strong number of reputable suppliers who are ready to do things differently. This can be challenging though, particularly for our tier two and tier three suppliers. Where people are unable to invest in immediate change, we work with them to deliver on alternative commitments in the interim and help them upskill over the long term by developing tailored sustainability roadmaps.

Turner & Townsend is one example of a company who has helped us realise our sustainability objectives by building a framework that measures and manages our progress and that of our suppliers.

By providing specialised assurance, expertise and guidance they are standing shoulder to shoulder with us. They give our team the confidence to know that we are delivering on our ambitions and helping others to get into the right space for change.

What trends are you seeing in capital procurement that signal a commitment to a low carbon economy in and outside of Heathrow?

Good question! I see four key trends that I hope will come to fruition over the coming years.

  1. Sustainability becoming ‘business as usual’. Setting higher expectations will mean we will reach a low carbon economy and fairer society faster.
  2. Carbon. We are assessing every material we use in terms of its embodied carbon and considering all alternatives when delivering a project. We are going to see a lot of disruption here. Technology has really shifted and it opens the chasm of what more could be done.
  3. Vehicles. The number of vehicles needed onsite will dramatically reduce and become electric. In addition, we are supporting more sustainable ways for people to travel to the airport without the need for cars, which are the main source of poor air quality across cities.
  4. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges for this generation and one we must all take on together. We need to continually readjust the way our society operates in order to protect our planet, and we need the best diverse minds to help us to do it. That's why I am most excited at the pace in which equality, diversity and inclusion is growing at Heathrow. 

Through accessible apprenticeships, fairer recruitment practices and conscious promotions we are determined to reflect our local community.

Only by diversifying our workforce and acting on the opinions of our future talent will we be able to transform the airport and aviation for the long term.

For further information contact:

Jon Tivey
Associate Director, Sustainability